City Tree, Country Tree

DFW is a very big place with varied neighborhoods, shopping centers, and town centers. But, have you ever noticed that the trees in the town centers, around parking lots, and along the streets are different than the ones in parks and in the country around North Texas? Curious Texas noticed it too and did the research for us.

Why are trees in North Texas so much shorter than those in other areas? Curious Texas investigates

Experts dig into key factors, including genetics, environmental conditions and history.

Here in North Texas, enormous trees are far from common — especially compared with other parts of the country.

Many of the tallest trees are on the West Coast, benefiting from the weather and soil there. In fact, the world’s tallest, at 380 feet, is in California.

Here in the Dallas area, you’re not going to find anything remotely close to that.

After a friend in Vancouver, Canada, asked about the height of North Texas trees, reader Ken Lee turned to Curious Texas with his own observation and question: “Why are the trees in North Texas so short? Trees in a lot of other areas of Texas can get very tall, but there are so few here.”

There are several answers to Lee’s question. Steve Houser, a consulting arborist with Arborlogical boils the factors down to genetics, environmental conditions and history.

The trees that are native to North Texas are naturally shorter. For example, the Texas red oak, which is native to North Texas, grows to about 40 feet while the Shumard red oak, native to East Texas, grows to more than 100 feet.

Most trees cannot grow taller than 150 to 160 feet because the tree must be able to defy gravity to transport water from the roots to the top.

“It is a simple matter of physics that the vascular system of a tree cannot carry or transport water much higher than 160 feet,” Houser said. “The redwoods and giant sequoias have the ability to capture and utilize water from the air and rainfall or fog, which allows them to grow much taller than other tree species.”

North Texas’ environmental conditions, including soil, climate water and space, aren’t the most conducive for growing large trees.

“Trees with plenty of water, growing space and healthy soil will grow taller than those with less irrigation, limited growing space [such as urban areas] or poor soil conditions,” Houser said.

A tree with a 16-inch diameter requires 1,000 square feet of open soil space, he said. Trees in Dallas are planted in small spaces that are often surrounded by concrete. That’s why the average tree in downtown Dallas lives only 18 years.

Historical factors have helped make North Texas land the way it is.

For example, much of North Texas was native prairie that had few trees except around water sources, Houser said. Therefore many of the trees that are here were planted relatively recently and haven’t reached their maximum height

Courtney Blevins, a Fort Worth regional forester with Texas Forest Service said climate is one of the most influential factors in the development of North Texas trees.

Southeast Texas can get more than 60 inches of rain a year, while El Paso gets less than 10.

“As a rule of thumb, for every 25 miles you travel west in Texas the annual precipitation decreases by an inch,” Blevins said. “So as the climate gets harsher and dryer moving west, the tree species change. Even if it’s a species that might grow both in East Texas and central Texas it’s still going to be smaller in central Texas.”

Soil is another factor that plays a huge role in tree growth.

Zach Wirtz, an urban forester with the Texas Trees Foundation said the ground in North Texas isn’t as rich as other places.

“Our soils can be less ideal for tree growth, especially in urban areas,” Wirtz said. “When trees are on good soil with all the nutrients and water they need, tree growth is much greater. Some places in Texas have more ideal soil types or receive more rainfall, such as along the coast, which allows trees to grow taller in less time.”

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